When someone asks me what I do, I never answer, “I’m a writer.” I know they’re really asking what I get paid for, what’s my job, my career, my status. I’ve had different answers to that question over the years. Whether I was home with my kids or working some part-time job, I was still a writer—someone who writes—but not an author. I write; I don’t auth.
I think that’s why I never claimed the word. Even though writing was an intimate part of my identity, writer was not a word I associated with myself. I capitalized it in my mind and reserved it for those professionals who had resumes and business cards and paychecks. I was not one of them.
I had thought, at one point in my life, that I would be. My favorite subject in school was always English. I loved everything about it, especially the grammar drills we had to do in high school. (I confess, though, that I hated the forced daily writing senior year:
Every day at ten of eight, I’m forced to take up pen
And grind out something meaningful and stylish if I can…
I don’t remember the rest, though, I probably have it somewhere.)
College classes were something altogether different. Literary criticism and I did not get along. I tried writing classes instead, but so clashed with the professor that I fled to the science building and never looked back.
The problem I had was that I couldn’t reconcile how I wrote, and what writing meant to me, with the types of analysis the professors used. They dissected every word, every phrase, looking for hidden meanings and themes. I wanted to enjoy the story. And when I wrote, I didn’t agonize over every word. I just wrote, letting the words flow. Poems often sprang to mind almost fully formed, or I’d get a couple lines stuck in my head until I could write them down, then the rest would spill out too.
What if some authors just wanted to tell a good story, and all those layers of meaning were there without any conscious intent?Why did the author choose that word? Maybe she liked it. Maybe it was a word she and her peers used every day. Maybe people around her talked that way. Or maybe she deliberately chose it to prove some minute point about the oppression of women in her day. Could be. I was still more interested in the story.
Did it move me? Was it fun? exciting? scary? Did I like the characters? Did I think about them when I had finished the book? Would I read it again?
In those classes, the answer was usually no. I didn’t like most of the assigned reading, the Authors and Poets who were praised by people who Knew Better. I didn’t want to be one of them, so I hid my writing away, chose a different major, scribbled my poems in science notebooks.
I convinced myself I had nothing to say to anyone. Still, I couldn’t stop writing. My husband said it was how I controlled my demons. Yes, sometimes. Writing did shine a light on the monsters under my bed. It also helped me think, made me smile, and kept me company. I was happy when I “got” a poem. I enjoyed coaching my kids when they started writing, helping with grammar and structure and flow. I filled the house with books, so they could meet Poets and Authors on their own terms.
Sometimes I regret that I let the opinions of those professors override my own natural love for writing. I wonder whether I could have been an Author or a Poet. Perhaps if I hadn’t agreed to measure myself by their standards, I would have dared to raise my voice and sing my songs out loud.